Center on Halsted hires its armed guards through Walsh Security, a private company that employs off-duty policemen and other law enforcement. The owner of the company is a Chicago Police officer, Tom Walsh.
As a policeman, Walsh doesn't need a license to guard the Center himself. His police credentials cover that. But because he contracts on behalf of other officers to provide services at the Center, Walsh is required by state law to have a license.
He does not have one.
In other words, Walsh and the Center on Halsted appear to be circumventing state law while strictly enforcing it.
"If he's hiring people to do security work and sending them out to jobs, he needs a license," said Sue Hofer, a spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation. "We have no record of any security license for Walsh or Walsh Security."
Licenses are important because they allow the state to set standards and ensure proper training. When applying to become a private security contractor, licensees must undergo fingerprinting and FBI background checks that are sent to all 50 states.
In October, the most recent month for which data was available, non-compliant nurses, barbers, doctors, massage therapists, roofing contractors and veterinarians were disciplined by the state. One private security contractor, for instance, had a license suspended for not paying child support.
In October, Brian Richardson, then-spokesman for Center on Halsted, said: "We contract out with Walsh [Security]. We pay them a set amount. Part of the contract includes details of where that money goes, how it's being used and what services we get. But that [contract or license] we just won't be able to share with you."
In recent days, Windy City Times emailed Center on Halsted CEO Modesto "Tico" Valle and Officer Walsh a list of questions seeking clarification. Among the questions was how the Center pays its guards — individually or through Walsh Security.
Neither Walsh nor the Center have commented, despite repeated requests. Walsh offered to meet, but did not follow up with plans.
This reporter spoke with Walsh at the dedication of the Halsted Street Legacy Walk in October, and he assured me that he had the proper paperwork in order. I followed up by phone a few weeks later to see if he'd looked into acquiring a license and he pointed me to the Secretary of State's website, which lists Walsh Security, LLC as a business.
Meanwhile, the website for the Illinois Department of Professional Regulations, which handles licenses, shows no record of Walsh or Walsh Security.
Center security guards frequently wear hats and sweatshirts that identify them as "Police." This appears to violate the Private Detective, Private Alarm, Private Security, Fingerprint Vendor, and Locksmith Act of 2004.
This Illinois state law stipulates that for private security contractors, "no license holder or employee of a licensed agency shall imply in any manner that the person is an employee or agent of a governmental entity." This includes displaying badges or wearing uniforms that use the words 'police', 'sheriff', 'highway patrol', 'trooper' or 'law enforcement.'
There is also a Chicago Police Department order that says police cannot work "when the secondary employer would require the Department member be represented as a Chicago Police Officer or wear the prescribed police uniform," unless written consent is provided by the Superintendent of Police.
Officer Jose Rios, the Chicago Police Department LGBT liaison, used to work for Walsh as a security guard at Center on Halsted. Rios stopped because he wanted his relationship with young people to be "clearly defined."
Rios said that by hiring off-duty police to work as security, the Center lowers the number of incidents referred to the police department.
He shared a story from one of his last days at the Center: An intoxicated young person became belligerent, knocking over chairs and swearing at people. Rios said a security guard who is also a policeman might be more discerning in this type of situation.
"Police officers are gonna be like, 'Look, you could have these people arrested. [But instead] let's put them out for a day, let them calm down and cool off,'" he said.
Generation Halsted is an eight-week series that seeks to capture youth voices not typically represented in Windy City Times and other media. The young people portrayed have many housing situations, gender identities and sexual orientations. The series looks primarily, but not exclusively, at Boystown, where an influx of young LGBTQ people has been a source of controversy. Windy City Times will continue to explore the issues raised here beyond this series.
Look for WindyCityTimes on www.youtube.com/windycitytimes and www.vimeo.com/windycitytimes or click the "YOUTH" tab at www.WindyCityMediaGroup.com .